Patron of the Arts and also the Heritages (1.2)

The Calvary Crossing Art & Heritage Museum is a serious and quietly beautiful building constructed principally of granite. It is fronted by a portico—that, is a roof supported by broad columns—upon which is carved relief images of ships with billowing sails.

The broad stone steps leading up to the huge, heavy double doors of the museum’s front entrance are little used outside of a location for event photography. An accessible entrance was added decades ago, with a tunnel carved through the sides of the great granite staircase and modern glass doors that could open automatically leading into a lower lobby.

As it became apparent over the years that the ground-level entrance was more convenient for everybody, easier to maintain, and presented the museum with less liability than the stone stairs, it was enhanced and remodeled into the main entrance. The lower lobby was less of a work of art than the grand entrance hall above, but it was more of a lobby. Its presence allowed all modern flourishes to be removed from the entrance hall, so that it could be enjoyed by all guests in its original state.

The museum is open until 6 PM most days, though it remains open for an additional two hours on Thursday evenings such as this one. Museum admission is fifteen dollars, save on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, when it is free.

It is possible for a person with sufficient mobility to see everything there is to see within the museum in a single morning, but if you should come in when admission is waived and stay past noon, no one comes around to kick you out. This fact is appreciated on cold winter days by those who need some place warm and out of the wind and who have grown tired of the libraries.

This night, the Thursday before Thanksgiving in 2016, was not particularly cold. The temperature would remain in the forties, as things were reckoned in this land, throughout the coldest part of the night. The young woman who skipped and bounced towards the museum’s accessible entrance at just before a quarter of eight was bundled up quite cozily against the early hint of a chill, in a denim jacket with a gray cotton hood and thin, smooth ski mask under that.

In her white tennis shoes, J.J. Masterson was all of five feet tall, giving the impression that she skipped as she walked to make up for inches lost from her stride.

She tipped her head back as she reached the granite tunnel, shaking the hood off while she peeled the stretchy polyester cowl back off her head, leaving it bunched around her neck like a loose scarf. Her skin underneath was white and sun-starved, her eyes a steely blue.

Her right ear was bedecked with piercings, including two in the cartilage ridge. Her left ear had a single crystal stud in the lobe. She had a bronze-colored ring in her nose, and a metallic magenta labret piercing that more or less coordinated with her hair.

She knew quite well that the Calvary Crossing Art & Heritage Museum tended to get officially nervous if you walked in with anything covering your head and face. There was a sign to that effect next to the door. When she’d absent-mindedly walked past it with a snapback and shades on one day back in the summer, she’d received quite a talking to from a guard who knew that she knew better.

J.J. had known at the time the sign was there, and had read it many times. She had visited the museum on free days so many times during what she had come think of as her Summer of Funemployment after college that at some point she just plain stopped thinking about it.

It was about keeping faces visible for the cameras, high and wide-angle in the corners of every room. Some of the antiquities housed in the museum were exactly the wrong combination of small, shiny, and easily fenced to make them tempting targets for a smash-and-grab robbery: ancient coins, gold ingots from a sunken ship, stuff like that.

The convertible ski mask would probably have struck most folks as suspicious even in a place that wasn’t holding fungible precious metals. If winter ever properly arrived no one would look at it twice, but there wasn’t much bite yet to the late November wind. Wearing it all the way up made her look like a bank robber, and wearing it over her lower face made her look like a train robber.

J.J. hoarded body heat like a jealous dragon with a thing for molecular motion. She always had. It was, as she would put it, a total thing: cold just chilled her to her bones. The approach of winter had been the most stressful part of the Summer of Funemployment, when she’d had neither job nor permanent address.

She had both now, amazingly. Her Summer of Funemployment was officially over.

The summer part especially so.

The black spandex bodystocking she wore under her clothes had originally been the foundation of a Halloween costume, but for the past two weeks she had been wearing it under her street clothes whenever she was going to be out at night, like a breathable layer of long underwear.

She didn’t know how much warmth it even helped her retain, but psychosomatic or not, it made her feel better about being out in the cold. Temperature aside, it reassured her somehow to have another layer of something between her and the world.

The suit’s fingers had made it hard to work her phone, but she’d cut them off and hemmed up the edges so they wouldn’t fray. It wasn’t the neatest job in the world—that, she would say, was delivering mail on the back of a kangaroo with a jetpack—but it worked.

She ran her bare fingers through her hair, spiking the left side back up where her hood had pulled it down.

Her hair on the unshaved side was about three inches long, just at the cusp of where it was starting to fall over. It was dyed a fiery hot pink gradient, and some of the gradations were even on purpose. The right side of her head had started to grow back in with stubby strawberry blonde fuzz. It looked redder when it was short and new, which she rather thought worked well with the dye job on the other side. It would at least do until she found someone who could help her shave it again.

Susan Mueller was the greeter on duty behind the reception desk. A mature Black lady who’d let her hair go prematurely white then streaked it purple, Susan was J.J.’s actual favorite among the museum staff. Her habitual smile dimmed briefly at the sound of the door sliding open so close to closing, then widened and brightened when she looked up and saw who was coming in.

“You know, I was starting to worry about you,” Susan said. “Or thought maybe you’d forgotten all about us.”

“What, me? Oh, no, never!” J.J. said. Her voice was soft and husky, with a sort of mumbly quality to it. The -er sound in particular did not seem to be completely formed. Her tone bounced the way her gait did: erratically, but with much enthusiasm. “But my new job no longer leaves me with the leisure time to which I was accustomed, as they say.” She punctuated this by hooking her thumbs under a pair of imaginary suspenders. “This is just my first chance to get here when you’re open? I’d never stay away if I didn’t have to!”

“Job? That’s wonderful!” Susan said. “Did you find a place with a firm, then?”

“Nah, I mean, I’ve pretty much given up on that for now? It’s more like a warehouse gig,” she said. “Man, they’ve got me doing a little bit of everything. It’s like… I’m a picker, I’m a packer, I’m a midnight stacker. You should see me work a pallet loader? Oh, hey, you should see my arms now!”

“Oh, I’d just bet they’re something,” Susan said. “So, have you found a place to live yet?”

“A spot opened up in a co-op, up on the Fort? A girl I hung out with a few times lived there already, and she helped me get in.”

“The Fort? You’re making that kind of money?” Susan said, and immediately looked like she regretted it.

“Just barely? It doesn’t leave me with much in the way of spending money,” J.J. said. “But I decided I can dodge the soda machine for a week and drop in here?”

“And you came now? Today? I hate to charge you fifteen dollars when we’re closing in fifteen minutes,” Susan said. “Here, let me ring you in as a member… I’ll just scan my…”

“Oh, no, please don’t do that!” J.J. said. “After all those times I stayed all day on the free admission? This is, like, a back payment! I’m a patron of the arts and also the heritages now. I mean, I’ll come back in a few weeks on my day off for a real visit, but… it’s gotta be now and it’s gotta be today! If I don’t go in now, I won’t have a chance to see the treasures of Minos before they move on.”

“Well, then, don’t let me keep you,” Susan said. She punched a few keys on the computer. “Oops! I accidentally rang you up as a child.”

“Oh, heck!” J.J. said, then flinched. “Um, I’m real sorry about the h-word, but. You can fix it?”

“No, I cannot, child. That’ll be twelve dollars. Now, do you want to argue with me over three bucks, or do you want to say ‘thank you very much, Susan’ and go see your treasures?”

“Thank you very much, Susan,” J.J. said, taking her change, which she dropped in the donation box on her way to the elevator.

“Don’t think I didn’t see that!”

“Thanks bunches! Really!”